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Takeda, CSL forge coronavirus alliance, forgoing their own drugs in the process

Japan's largest pharma and a Pennsylvania-based drug manufacturer have teamed up with four other companies to speed development and increase supply of a potential treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The alliance forged by Takeda and CSL Behring specifically focuses on a type of treatment made from the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from the coronavirus. The idea is that this donor plasma, which carries a type of antibody known as immunoglobulin, can be injected into sick patients and trigger an immune response that helps them survive the infection.

Takeda and CSL have extensive experience with plasma-derived therapies, each sporting multiple approved products that treat illnesses such as rabies, hepatitis and certain immune system deficiencies. Executives from the companies told BioPharma Dive that they see greater value in collaborating on a therapy, a view which helped spawn their new alliance.

"We recognize, collectively, that this is a race against the clock," said Julie Kim, president of Takeda's plasma-derived therapies business. "And so if we work together, unlike businesses as usual, we can be much faster to bring a potential treatment."

Takeda and CSL say the alliance will be developing one unbranded immunoglobulin medicine that, hopefully, has the potential to treat patients with serious complications from COVID-19. Specifically, they'll aim to develop a standardized, more concentrated product known as hyperimmune immunoglobulin.​

In order to do that, though, they'll need blood plasma. While the virus' rapid spread of has led to a greater number people who can donate the necessary plasma, it has also made trips to collection centers a more daunting prospect for patients.

"Even though plasma donation and blood donation have been deemed as essential services, and you can still go to do those activities, I would say that the human fear factor of leaving your home to go and donate still exists," Kim said.

Though plasma-derived therapies have been used against other infectious diseases — including SARS, itself a member of the coronavirus family — their usefulness for treating COVID-19 remains mostly unknown.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently wrote how these therapies do hold some promise. Additionally, JAMA published a study in March that seemed to hint at signs of a benefit for five patients with the virus who were treated with plasma therapy and other medications. Still, the study's many caveats — among them its small sample size and lack of a control group — made the results hard to interpret.

Author: Jacob Bell

Published: April 7, 2020

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